A tragedy remembered
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Nov 22, 2013 | 947 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A microfilm reproduction of the Cleveland Daily Banner’s issue of Nov. 22, 1963, headlining the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is shown here. Today is the 50th anniversary of the tragedy which shocked not just a nation, but the entire world. Kennedy has been long remembered as a president who championed Civil Rights and social equality in America. His death unleashed a series of tragic events involving the Kennedy family, including the assassination of the president’s brother Robert Kennedy in 1968. Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES
A microfilm reproduction of the Cleveland Daily Banner’s issue of Nov. 22, 1963, headlining the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is shown here. Today is the 50th anniversary of the tragedy which shocked not just a nation, but the entire world. Kennedy has been long remembered as a president who championed Civil Rights and social equality in America. His death unleashed a series of tragic events involving the Kennedy family, including the assassination of the president’s brother Robert Kennedy in 1968. Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES
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Readers of the Cleveland Daily Banner saw a normal news day on Nov. 21, 1963.

The major stories on the front page were about the trial of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa and how his attorney alleged there was jury tampering in the case.

Locally, the area was getting ready for the major event of the week — the Jaycee Junior Miss Pageant to be held in two days.

In other news, President John F. Kennedy had begun his visit to Texas with a stop in San Antonio.

“The New Frontier is not the exclusive property of either the Democrats or the Republicans,” the wire service story in the Banner reported the president saying.

“It refers instead to this nation’s position in history today — to the fact that we stand on the edge of a new era filled with both crises and opportunities, an era to be characterized by both grim challenges and historic achievement.”

The president could not have know how prophetic his phrase “grim challenges” would become.

It was 2 p.m. EST the next day when everything changed.

That was the moment the news flash rang the urgent bells on teletype machines with the official announcement President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed while riding in a motorcade through Dallas.

The news was so big and so fast, there was no time to revise inside pages that included stories and columns about the fallen leader and his administration that became both dated and awkward.

“KENNEDY IS KILLED” was the Banner headline on that Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, and an AP columnist had written on the editorial page, “Republicans Sounding Like It’s ’64 Already.”

The election race of 1964 had indeed begun and Kennedy was in Texas in an attempt to bring together warring factions of the state’s Democratic party in a state he knew he had to win for re-election one year later.

The shots that rang out in Dallas wiped out the thought of politics.

They have reverberated around the world five decades, but it especially began a wave of mourning and disbelief for the next four days.

“At Bradley High School when Assistant Principal Mrs. Lee Clemmer read the announcement on the public address system,” the Banner reported, “students became sober-faced. When the dismissal bell rang, the normal running or hurrying did not occur. Students walked slowly, some with tears in their eyes.”

The mood was on display in the Banner as it made the announcements of how the community would note the event.

Special services were held on Saturday, Nov. 23, at St.Therese Catholic Church and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

The Thanksgiving service scheduled at Broad Street Methodist for the next week was changed to “a special service of supplication.”

The Cleveland Fraternal Order of Police scheduled a fund drive for the widow of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippett who was shot and killed by the president’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, as he was trying to flee the scene.

The local Banner weather report was not sheltered from a universally somber mood as it reported: “Even the weather seems to take note of the death of President Kennedy as somber skies hang over the Cleveland area.”

A past generation had Pearl Harbor. The current generation has 9/11. That generation will never forget where they were when the news about JFK came.

The following are some remembrances from local leaders of a moment they will never forget.

Tom Rowland, Cleveland mayor:

“I was working in Sweetwater radio station WDEH and we were getting ready to do the Christmas parade and broadcast it live. Just as the parade was about ready to start, we got the word President Kennedy had been shot and killed.

“People who were around where we were standing and got the word were just quiet with shock and awe. I remember a Greyhound bus pulled up near where we were and I had already gone on the air and the Sweetwater officials were trying to decide whether to go ahead with the parade or not. They decided to go ahead with it because everybody was there.

“I remember a busload of people getting off the bus and I was on the air with a microphone and I tried to talk real loud so they could hear it. As they heard it, I could see them passing the word along.

“It was a sad time. It was just an indescribable feeling to think that our president had been killed by someone.”

Avery Johnson, Cleveland vice mayor:

“I was working at Magic Chef and I was in the garage department. I had only been there about two years.

“I was right on the top and everything just stopped when it happened. We all got around the radio. It was a very, very sad day.

“I was really emotional because I began to see a lot of changes on the horizon and I knew things were going to be different for the African-American community, and had a lot of hope. It seems like everything just went away after that.

Dr. Carl Hite, president, Cleveland State:

“I was a freshman in college at the time. I was just leaving the student union when I learned he had died. I could not believe it had happened.

“I think college students thought very highly of him, including me. He was one of a kind.”

Joanne Maskew, executive director, Cleveland/Bradley County Keep American Beautiful:

“I was going to a junior college in Mississippi and when it came on the TV, I was ironing my uniform. I was a ‘Perkette’ at Perkinston Junior College.

“We had an event coming up and our uniforms had to be pressed. I remember just standing there thinking, ‘This can’t be true. They’re talking about the president.’

“I think we all just went somewhere else in our mind. It was just too hard to focus and believe that someone would actually assassinate the president.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday. I remember just sitting down in the chair and thinking this just could not be. I knew it had happened before in history, but it was hard to believe it was happening in my lifetime.”

Andy Anderson, president, Bradley Sunrise Rotary:

“I remember it was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and they were talking about fallout shelters. Everyone had to know about the shelters when you were in school and where to go and what to do.

“They came and announced, ‘President Kennedy has been killed. We don’t know who did it. Go home.’ We took off out of the school running. I can remember myself running across the yard to get home because I thought the Russians were going to bomb us. It was a different time.”

Jim Bryant, general manager, Cleveland Daily Banner:

“I was in the fifth grade, sitting in class. During that class, one of the other teachers opened the door and stuck her head in. She looked at our teacher and said, ‘President Kennedy has been shot. Right now, that’s all I know.’

“Everything got really quiet. Then about six or seven minutes later the same teacher came back, stuck her head in the door, and said, ‘President Kennedy is dead.’

“It was kind of a shock even to people that young. At that time, he seemed to be what we needed.

“We went on with the class, but when we went home it was all over the news and we sat and watched.

“There are two images in my mind: John Junior standing and saluting, and the other is the guy leading the black riderless horse with the boots in the stirrups.”

D. Gary Davis, Bradley County mayor:

“I remember watching it on TV. I was in second grade, but I was old enough to know about things like that because I followed politics pretty closely.

“It’s been something that’s always fascinated me — the different theories of what happened.”